Bat immunology

Chiroptera is the second largest mammalian group after rodents, bats possessing unique physiological adaptations with relevance to their disease susceptibility and reservoir competence. In this project we aim to describe and understand the factors influencing intra- and interspecies variability in bat’s immunity. 

Project details
Duration: since 03/2010
Third-party funded: no
Involved Department(s): Dept Wildlife Diseases, Dept Evolutionary Ecology, Dept Evolutionary Genetics, Dept Reproduction Biology
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Gábor Czirják (Dept Wildlife Diseases)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Christian Voigt (Dept Evolutionary Ecology), Jörns Fickel (Dept Evolutionary Genetics), Gudrun Wibbelt, Alex Greenwood (all: Dept Wildlife Diseases), Beate Braun (Dept Reproduction Biology)
Consortium Partner(s): Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, University of Georgia (USA), Montana State University (USA), Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (France), Tel Aviv University (Israel), Emory University (USA)
Current Funding Organisation: -
Research Foci:
Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
Understanding the environmental context
Developing theories, methods, and tools

Chiroptera is the second largest mammalian group after rodents. Bats have unique physiological adaptations, provide important ecosystem services, but are threatened by various anthropogenic activities. They are highly mobile and social, host a diversity of zoonotic pathogens, and are relatively easy to capture and sample, thus can be considered an ideal model for eco-immunology and diseases ecology.

Recently bats became the focus for human-oriented approaches in infectious disease research as important reservoirs for various emerging viruses. However, they are susceptible to other, extracellular pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. Our work on bat immunology aims to describe and understand the immunological base of these observed differences in susceptibility, to delineate factors explaining the species-specific differences in chiropteran immune phenotype, to understand the effect of different anthropogenic activities (e.g. habitat destruction, pollution) on their health status and its consequences on reservoir competence. We are specifically interested how species adapted immunologically to hibernation (with Depts. Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Genetics and Reproduction Biology), migration (with Dept. Evolutionary Ecology) and reproduction. A major effort of all our projects is to continuously improve the immunological toolkit available for wildlife species, focusing on species-non-specific assays.

Besides bats, we collaborate on similar questions both internally and externally on various avian and mammalian species too.

Selected Publications

Schneeberger K, Czirják GÁ, Voigt CC (2013): Inflammatory challenge increases measures of oxidative stress in a free-ranging, long-lived mammal. J EXP BIOL 216, 4514-4519. doi:10.1242/jeb.090837.

Schneeberger K, Czirják GÁ, Voigt CC (2013): Measures of the constitutive immune system are linked to diet and roosting habits of Neotropical bats. PLOS ONE 8, e54023. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054023.Hecht A, Braun BC, Krause E, Voigt CC, Greenwood AD, Czirják GÁ (2015): Plasma proteomic analysis of active and torpid greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis). SCI REP 5, 16604. doi:10.1038/srep16604.

Becker DJ, Chumchal MM, Bentz AB, Platt SG, Czirják GÁ, Rainwater TR, Altizer S, Streicker DG (2017): Predictors and immunological correlates of sublethal mercury exposure in vampire bats. R SOC OPEN SCI 4, 170073. doi:10.1098/rsos.170073.

Seltmann A, Czirják GÁ, Courtiol A, Bernard H, Struebig M, Voigt CC (2017): Habitat disturbance results in chronic stress and impared health status in forest-dwelling paleotropical bats. CONS PHYSIOL 5, cox020. doi:10.1093/conphys/cox020.

Becker DJ, Czirják GÁ, Volokhov DV, Bentz AB, Carrera JE, Camus MS, Navara KJ, Chizhikov VE, Fenton MB, Simmons NB, Recuenco SE, Gilbert AT, Altizer S, Streicker DG (2018): Livestock abundance predicts vampire bat demography, immune profiles and bacterial infection risk. PHILOS TRANS R SOC LOND B BIOL SCI 373, 20170089. doi:10.1098/rstb.2017.0089.

Costantini D, Czirják GÁ, Bustamante P, Bumrungsri S, Voigt CC (2019): Impacts of land use on an insectivorous tropical bat: the importance of mercury, physio-immunology and trophic position. SCI TOTAL ENVIRON 671, 1077-1085. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.398.

Fritze M, Costantini D, Fickel J, Wehner D, Czirják GÁ*, Voigt CC* (2019): Immune response of hibernating European bats to a fungal challenge. BIOL OPEN 8, bio046078. (*These authors contributed equally). doi:10.1242/bio.046078.

Hecht-Höger A, Braun BC, Krause E, Meschede A, Krahe R, Voigt CC, Greenwood AD, Czirják GÁ (2020): Plasma proteomic profiles differ between European and North American myotid bats colonized by Pseudogymnoascus destructans. MOL ECOL. doi:10.1111/mec.15437. [Epub ahead of print].